By: Scott Wasser
Despite encroachment every so often from a Ram 1500 TRX, an F-150 Raptor, or a Land Rover owner who makes a wrong turn leaving the country club, Jeep has had the road – make that the off-road – pretty much to itself for many years.
No longer, Tim Son Hing told NEMPA members and guests attending the group’s annual awards dinner July 21 at NEMPA’s garage. Son Hing is Consumer Marketing Strategy Manager for Ford’s reborn Bronco family, which appears poised and well-prepared to do some serious Baja-bashing and go where few vehicles other than Jeeps have recently dared to tread.
The Bronco family consists of two completely differently vehicles: the compact 2021 Bronco Sport, available in five four-door versions, and the full-size 2021 Bronco, available with two or four doors and more versions than television’s Real Housewives series.
The baby (primarily in size, but also in off-road capability to some degree) Bronco was actually born first. Despite being delayed by the pandemic, it first appeared in a few Ford dealer showrooms in November 2020. There has been one in Automotion’s test fleet for months, and it has generally received rave reviews from NEMPA members who have driven it.
The big Bronco took longer to get to market but started appearing in showrooms last month. The one Son Hing showed off during his presentation, a Badlands model, has joined the test fleet and will soon be getting thoroughly evaluated in real-world, on- and off-road conditions by NEMPA’s members.
What they’ll find, according to Son Hing, is a vehicle that was built to compete with Jeep’s Wrangler, which for decades has been the benchmark for off-road capability. But since simply following in Wrangler’s knobby-tired tracks most likely wouldn’t be enough to steal sales from Jeep’s icon and its fanatical following, Bronco was designed to be more comfortable, more accommodating and more capable across the board.
“Bronco is back … and literally within days of when the last one was built 25 years ago,” said Son Hing. “The new Bronco was built to be wildly capable with the spirit of a Mustang and the toughness of an F-series. On-road and off, Bronco has the handling and performance for pure, untamed adventure.”
He said customers will be able to choose from a lineup of seven models, each of which can be optioned to best suit their needs. For example, even the Base model can be ordered with the largest wheel-and-tire package or the larger and more powerful of two engine offerings.
And unlike Jeep, which only offers its most capable off-road components on the top-of-the-line Rubicon model, even the least expensive Bronco can be equipped with Ford’s top terrain-taming package, called Sasquatch.
The Bronco powertrain offerings consist of a turbocharged, 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine available with seven-speed manual or 10-speed automatic transmission, and a twin-turbocharged, 2.7-liter V-6, offered only with a 10-speed automatic. Ford says the engines can deliver up to 300 and 330 horsepower, respectively, on premium fuel.
All Broncos are 4-wheel-drive with electronically controlled two-speed transfer cases. A part-time system with three manually selected modes is standard. The upgrade features four modes with automatic on-demand engagement capability. Those who tow their vehicles to off-road adventures will appreciate that both systems allow free-wheeling flat towing simply by shifting the selector knob to Neutral.
The new Broncos offer plenty of other features serious off-road enthusiasts appreciate, such as easily removable doors and roof panels, a host of hefty grab bars, and plenty of undercarriage protection. But Son Hing said thousands of hours of customer research and benchmarking the Wrangler also led to an unprecedented level of detail Bronco buyers should appreciate. These include:
- Hood-mounted outside rearview mirrors that remain where they are when the front doors are removed.
- A USB outlet at the top of the dash that provides a convenient power source for the video cameras used by many off-road enthusiasts to record their adventures.
- Other power points strategically located on the Bronco’s exterior that enable easy connectivity of accessories such as roof-mounted lightbars.
- Guide bars integrated into the corners of the front hood and a collection of front-mounted cameras (including two that show where the front wheels are headed). These help drivers negotiate tricky terrain.
Son Hing said, “Sometimes, not being first can be an advantage. We had an opportunity to take a good look at what the competition did and didn’t do well and use that information when we designed the new Bronco, which is being delivered to customers now but is in such demand that we expect to go into 2022 filling current orders.”
The new Bronco traces its ancestry to one that was offered from 1966 to ’96. During development, the first one was code-named G.O.A.T., which in recent years has been an acronym used to describe athletes considered the Greatest Of All Time in their respective sports. Ford has adopted and modified the acronym, proudly proclaiming it stands for Goes Over Any Type of terrain.
That might be the case now, but if the new Bronco lives up to its advance billing, G.O.A.T might come to mean Greatest Off-roader of All Time. NEMPA’s journalists will soon have a say in determining just how accurate that description might be.
2022 Ford Maverick
Although the new Bronco was the star of the show, another Ford that has been garnering plenty of attention made a guest appearance at the NEMPA meeting. Attendees were treated to what was the first and only public appearance of the eagerly anticipated 2022 Ford Maverick compact pickup truck since the Chicago Auto Show.
Ford’s East Region Communications manager, Rhonda Belluso, said the Maverick is still months away from reaching customers (although Ford is taking no-fee reservations now), so the truck on display was a pre-production model.
Nevertheless, it is very close to what the production model will be, so Maverick Brand & Product Manager Zack Nakos was on hand to point out features and answer questions while giving journalists a close-up look at the truck.
In person, the truck looked larger than its “compact” description implies. Its rear seat was as roomy and accommodating as the average compact sedan, and its cargo bed – although only 4.5 feet long – looks larger because of its deep sidewalls.
The cargo box features what Ford calls a “Flexbed” and designed to be extremely versatile. It incorporates 12 anchor points, two 12V outlets, and optional storage cubbies and a 120V outlet. The standard feature list also includes 10 slots that enable users to subdivide the bed with 2×4 and 2×6 lumber.
The cargo bed’s most interesting feature might be its multi-position tailgate. In addition to conventional fully open or closed positions, it can remain a partially open (at an angle) by adjusting its support cable. With the tailgate in that position, Ford said the Maverick can transport up to 18 sheets of 4×8, 3/4-inch plywood with its tailgate down.
The Maverick’s other unique feature is its standard full-hybrid powertrain, comprised of a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, electric motor and a continuously variable transmission with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive will be offered, but reportedly only with the optional, non-hybrid 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine.
Like a lot of Ford’s recent vehicles, the Maverick looks like an innovative offering in a very competitive automotive market where few manufactures do the unexpected. Based on sales and demand for its other innovative products, Ford might have another upcoming hit on its hands.